By Erik Uebelacker
Few fighters at the 2021 IMMAF World Championships bring as much experience as Reo Yamaguchi.
The Japanese athlete has already competed in 17 amateur bouts and has amassed a record of 13-4 since his debut in 2016.
Yamaguchi has competed in two IMMAF World Championship events before, with the 22-year-old looking to capture gold at the third attempt.
His two previous appearances in the IMMAF Worlds saw Yamaguchi claim silver medals in the junior bantamweight division. He has only been defeated by one other fighter at the Championships: England’s Muhammad Mokaev, who is now an undefeated UFC prospect.
This extensive amateur resume should make Yamaguchi a frontrunner for gold in Abu Dhabi. However, this time around he will look to achieve success in a new division after changing his status, and his weight class, from junior bantamweight to senior featherweight for the 2021 tournament.
“I moved my category from bantamweight. So this is new, so I’m challenging [myself],” Yamaguchi told IMMAF.org, before explaining the reasoning behind his decision.
“I wanted to focus on more training,” Yamaguchi said.
“I train hard,” he stated, later noting his newfound appreciation for eating during training camps.
Yamaguchi also said that his process of getting to the tournament this year was a challenge in itself, given the extraordinary circumstances plaguing the world.
Luckily, his roughly six-hour journey from Thailand to Abu Dhabi was not as long as that endured by many other competitors.
“It’s very different, you know?” Yamaguchi said.
“The PCR tests, the checks… it’s different.”
Yamaguchi prepared for the tournament at UFC veteran Mike Swick’s AKA Thailand gym, where he had no shortage of quality training partners.
Despite still being an amateur, Yamaguchi has already made enough of an impact there to be honoured on the gym’s wall.
He’ll be hoping to pick up additional accolades in Abu Dhabi this week, where he will serve as the Japan’s sole representative at the Championships.
“I’m proud to represent Japan’s team,” he said.
And when asked if he expects to come away with gold, he grinned from behind his mask and answered simply, “Yeah!”